Southeast Missourians take a plunge for Special Olympics

Sunday, February 8, 2009
Costumed participants run into Lake Boutin as part of Special Olympics of Southeast Missouri's third annual Polar Bear Plunge Saturday afternoon at Trail of Tears State Park.

Schoolteacher Dan Brown took a swim in 39-degree Lake Boutin at Trail of Tears State Park for a cause Saturday afternoon.

Brown and fellow teammates from Notre Dame Regional High School and Cape Girardeau Central High School -- known collectively as the Frostbitten Faculty -- were among 140 participants who jumped into the lake during the third annual Polar Bear Plunge that benefits 1,100 Southeast Missouri Special Olympics athletes.

"This is a win-win situation all around," Brown said. "We're able to compete and interact with each other, including the Special Olympic athletes. It demonstrates commitment to a cause."

Since its inception in 2007 the annual event in Cape Girardeau has raised more than $90,100, including $32,103 on Saturday. The goal for Saturday was $40,000. Organizer Penny Williams said the event has grown in popularity each year.

"I'm surprised at how this event has grown since we began with 80 that first year and had 120 the next," Williams said. "These participants are making it possible for our athletes to compete in Special Olympics year-round."

Participants were required to raise at least $50 to take part in the event, which was hosted by the Cape Girardeau Police Department. Cape Girardeau is the fourth of 13 locations to host a plunge in Missouri this year.

Matt Tanksley of the Cape Girardeau Kiwanis Club, who raised $10,050 by himself, was among those recognized before the event began. Williams said he is the top overall fundraiser for plunges that have taken place in the state so far in 2009.

Others honored before the plunge began were plunge committee members, sponsors and the Cape Girardeau Fire Department. Earlier in the morning members of the fire department cleared three inches of ice off the lake along the shoreline to allow individuals and teams to jump in the water. Sponsors for the event included Pyramid Home Health Services, Enterprise Leasing, Culver's, the Cape Girardeau Kiwanis Club, First State Community Bank, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Cape Girardeau police officers.

Since the plunge began in 1995 at Lake of the Ozarks, more than 8,500 Missourians have taken the plunge in lakes across the state, raising $1,853,751 through the end of 2008.

Most of the participants Saturday dressed in outfits ranging from bikinis to penguin costumes for a costume parade that began before the plunge. A team of five from Buckner Brewing Co. won first place for their pirate costumes.

The event featured first-time participants such as the Frostbitten Faculty and the Plunging Penguins.

"We've wanted to do this for a while and finally decided this was the year," said Emiley Heitman, a member of the five-team Plunging Penguins, which won second place in the costume contest. "Since it was for such a good cause, we were more than happy to dress up and brave the cold water."

Others like Ute Smith elected to return for another year of participating in the plunge.

A Special Olympics coach in Cape Girardeau, Smith said she appreciated the effort and dedication it took to make the event successful.

"By being here today we're showing the athletes how much we support and back them," Smith said, adding, "This helps make what the athletes do possible."

Those who didn't attend the event may send contributions through March 31 by hand delivering or mailing a check to Southeast Area Special Olympics, 1625 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701. Proceeds support year-round sports training and athletic competition for more than 15,000 children and adults with mental disabilities who participate in Special Olympics Missouri.


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